Carolyn Curtin is a name I’m sure many of you have heard before. I know I have, prior to meeting her on a recent visit to her showroom on Washington Avenue. Carolyn’s story is unique in that she too has played a role in the revival of Asbury Park, but in a much different way. While most knock down existing structures in order to make way for progress, Carolyn saves them; at least as much of them as she possibly can. Dubbed the “Salvage Angel” years ago by author Helen Chantel Pike, her passion eventually turned into a livelihood and the name stuck. It all started when she would drive through Asbury Park on her to way to clients’ homes. She has been a hairdresser by trade for the past 30 years and still is. It was Christmas time in 2002, she was impressed by how beautiful and creative the homes on the northwest side were decorated. She felt it was time and so she purchased a home, by herself, on the 500 block of Asbury Avenue. Growing up in The Oranges of Essex County, Carolyn not only had a great reverence for turn of the century homes, she was also comfortable in urban environments. Because of that, she had no hesitation making an offer on a foreclosed home in a not-so-friendly neighborhood, which was the case back then. The moment she walked into the foyer of the three-story boarded up house that fateful day, she immediately felt that she was home.
The house was built in 1900 by a woman; uncommon for even today’s standards, let alone a century ago. Throughout its history it has only been deeded to women. Anne King, the last woman who lived there in the 1990’s was bludgeoned to death by the boyfriend of a next door neighbor. A few years back Paranormal did an investigation and the medium, who knew nothing about the history of the house, saw an elderly woman standing on the stairs with folded arms and wanted to know what they were all doing there.
Carolyn won the bid and soon after the renovation began. She wanted to restore the home back to its original grandeur. Which wasn’t too difficult since everything in the house was original, except for the kitchen. It had been updated but it was done cheaply, with poor quality cabinets. She started going to demolition sales, collecting pieces of kitchens. She found everything but the kitchen sink – literally. Finding an old style kitchen sink was her biggest challenge.
When the project was completed, she felt sad to see the beautiful, original fixtures from the old hotels and homes being tossed away and wanted to keep them from going to a landfill. She reached out to the company doing revitalization on Cookman Ave, who at the time was Paramount Homes, and got permission to go into the buildings about to be demolished or “razed” (in more professional terms). She began to collect things, hoping to find a new home for them. When she found the right owner, she would give it away – becoming the foster parent to the jewels of Asbury Park. Then her good friend Richard Virgilio, of TheBPlot.com, started a Facebook page for her and well, the rest is history. She kept the name, “Salvage Angel by the Sea” and still uses that same Facebook page. Carolyn will come in after the closing and before the wrecking ball, with a flashlight around her neck and hammer in hand, to salvage whatever gems she can find inside a boarded up building. She pays the developer for letting her strip it down to the bare bones, taking everything she can; from the doors and windows to stoves, plumbing fixtures, lighting, hardware, molding, mantles, mosaics, frescoes, signs, some furniture and yes, kitchen sinks! I asked what her most popular selling item was. She said, “Vintage plumbing fixtures and doors.” I can tell you with no uncertainty, she has the most incredible doors!
Her boyfriend Brett Holloway, bought the house on Sewall Ave that matches up to her back yard and for years she housed her inventory in the back yards of those two homes. Now the Salvage Angel resides in a 20,000 square foot building that used to be the Asbury Towel Company. The location at 1325 Washington Avenue is right smack in the very heart of Asbury Park. Washington Avenue is well-known to insiders, yet less traveled by most. One reason is that it’s a one-way street with an unassuming access point that looks like a private road. When you arrive at the Salvage Angel, the first thing you notice, even before you’re lovingly greeted by her sweet rescue dogs Fannie and Frankie, is the massive building across the street. That building is the Good Hope Baptist Church, which is nearing completion of a 10,000 square foot addition. But the two seem to fit well together; while Carolyn is redeeming the treasures of a building, Good Hope Church is redeeming the treasures of a community; its people.
Carolyn has collected some of the most classic and nostalgic items from many of the hotels, nightclubs, and theaters of Asbury Park, like the original sign from The Metropolitan Hotel, the terracotta reliefs from The Belmont Hotel and the lobby floor mosaic from The Plaza Hotel. There are also items from other well-known buildings: the Atlantic Hotel, M&K, The Odyssey, and the Walter Reade theaters. When asked what her favorite discovery was, she smiled and said, “The top hat that I found at the Hotel Gardner,” It was one of those hats that flatten like a pancake. When she picked it up from the basement floor, it popped open! Upon closer examination, she discovered that it contained a signature, “Max and Buddy Baer.” Max Baer was a Heavyweight Boxing Champion in the 1930’s. His brother Buddy was also a heavyweight contender. Max was the father of actor Max Baer Jr. known to the world as Jethro Bodine from The Beverly Hillbillies, a TV sitcom in the 1960’s. Legend has it that the hat was given to their manager, Ancil Hoffman. Back in the day, the Hotel Gardner was a place where mostly musicians stayed. It would be their home-base when performing in town or other places like Atlantic City. At the end of the night, they would come back from their gigs and jam at the hotel.
The Salvage Angel has reclaimed and recaptured much of Asbury Parks’ history, but Carolyn won’t sell any of Asbury Park’s historic keepsakes. She is disheartened by the fact that many people have stripped the city of its original memorabilia, selling it off for a profit. Someday she hopes there will be a museum where people can visit to take a walk through Asbury Parks’ history.
You can make an appointment to visit the showroom by going to Salvage Angel by the Sea on Facebook or call (908) 875-3727.